Themselves Alone

“Our sympathy,” said Gibbon with his usual acuity, “is cold to the relation of distant misery.”  You do not need to know very much about human nature to agree with the great historiographer that it is often very difficult, or even impossible, to sympathize with the woes of strangers.

And if it is difficult to feel other people’s pain, how much more difficult is it when the unfortunates in question have for long been demonized and disregarded by the world’s bien-pensants?  There will be a surprisingly large number of otherwise kindly, well-meaning people who will be stolidly indifferent to this book, because they have come, over their lives, to believe that Afrikaners are, to a man, ultraconservative, verkrampte, racist, slave-driving, sjambok-wielding bigots.  A book that details the violent attacks on, and relentless dispossession of, Afrikaner farmers by black criminals will accordingly fail to incite the same levels of passion that it would were the relentless dispossessions the other way around.  For all too many people, reared as they have been on a media diet of cartoonish Afrikaner stereotypes and schmaltzy Mandela worship, it will seem as if what is now happening in South Africa is merely a kind of redress for historical wrongs.  Yet the stories contained in this volume are as harrowing as any that can be found in the woeful story of postcolonial...

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